Common Name – Horse Chestnut
Irish Name – crann cno capall
Latin Name – aesculus hippocastaum
Not a native tree but Irish People are very familiar with it. Originally grown across Eastern and Southern Europe, the Species is now endangered within its own habitat in the wild. The horse chestnut is a species of flowery plant in the maple, soapberry and lychee family Sapindaceae and the common name originates from the similarity of the leaves and fruits to sweet chestnuts.
Mature horse chestnut trees grow to a height of around 40m and can live for up to 300 years. The bark is smooth and pinky-grey when young, which darkens and develops scaly plates with age. Twigs are hairless and stout; buds are oval, dark red, shiny and sticky. The palmate leaves comprise 5–7 pointed, toothed leaflets spreading from a central stem. Appearing in May, the individual flowers have 4–5 ringed petals, which are white with a pink flush at the base. Once pollinated by insects, each flower develops into a glossy red-brown conker inside a spiky green husk, which falls in autumn.
There is little Irish folklore associated with the horse chestnut tree – probably due to it being an introduced species. However, games of conkers have different rules in different parts of the country and have their own jargon which often requires repeating rhymes or rituals to decide who goes first.